The key enabler of discipleship is a friendship of rigorous honesty. Though the discipleship process is fundamentally informal in that we do not go through a book or a set of principles in a formal order, the process does have a few key characteristics. The key characteristic that is most central is that the relationship is one of rigorous honesty. The two or three people that make up this intimate friendship are rigorously honest with each other. The reason that rigorous honesty is so central is because of the nature of discipleship itself.
Discipleship is the process through which Jesus expands his rule and reign over the motivations of our inner person or spirit. Our spirit is here defined as the hidden driving forces that motivate our behaviors. For example, I find myself being over bearing and easily disturbed by the rowdy behavior of my children. I try to be more patient but I find myself speaking forcefully to my children to get them to behave. I easily lose my patience. My behavior problem is my speaking forcefully and even out of disgust, but this is not my motivational or spiritual problem.
In the context of my intimate friendships, the discipleship process, we would discuss why I behave the way I do. My impatience is merely a fruit of my spiritual condition and motivation. If I attempt to fight the impatience with my children directly, I will always fail because I am not dealing with the root cause, the motivation or spirit behind the behavior. Our problem is ultimately a spiritual problem and therefore requires a spiritual solution. My fruit is easily observable and therefore easy to confess, but the real sin beneath the surface is my own little secret. This inner life motivation is both much more difficult discern and when discovered much more difficult to admit. At this point, in order to grow and in order for Jesus to rule over my heart, I need to be rigorously honest with myself and let the Holy Spirit guide me to discern my spiritual condition. In fact, I might need my friends help as well, but they need to be gentle about it.
So, continuing this example, I would quiet myself and answer the “why” question. Why do I get so easily disturbed by my children’s energetic behavior? The fact is that I am embarrassed. They are violating a social rule. Well-behaved children are orderly, and good parents have well-behaved children (or so the social rule says). I do not want to be judged by others. I fear their judgments, and so, I am willing to violate meekness in order to get my children to obey the unspoken social rules. As a result of this motivation, I lose my patience and show disgust for my children’s behavior out of a spirit of fear of people’s opinions of me as a skilled parent. I want to be seen as wise and mature and functional and therefore I shame my kids. I am trying really to put on a show before others as a neat and tidy family. It is all motivated by hypocrisy, pride and fear of people not love for my kids.
The fact is that this understanding of family and parenting is a fairy tale of how life works and living in a fairy tale of religion is a horrible burden for children to be raised under. Such a religion of social norming pressures is bad religion. Do I really want to raise my children under this toxic legalism? If I do not want my children to be raised under this fear of people’s judgmentalism, then I need to confess the driving motivation of fear of other people’s opinions and realize that this is the real motivation for my impatience. I need to describe this condition of my heart to my friends and surrender this pettiness as the root of so much of my religious life. I want to be seen by others as mature and together, and this insecurity and fear is the real reason that I get impatient with my kids. God deliver me from acting out of this fear, help me to see it and direct my children with love, patience and meekness, not fear and impatience. Admitting that I am so petty and motivated by other people’s opinions is a blow to my ego and quite humbling to confess before my friends, but these are the sinful motives that Jesus wants to deliver us from through the process of discipleship.
In the above example, I hope I have illustrated the role that rigorous honesty plays in the discipleship process. Rigorous honesty is the confession not of our behavior but our inner motivations or our spirit, the driving force behind our behaviors. It is far more revealing and difficult to say that much of my religion is for show and that I am driven by my fear of people’s opinions than to simply state the obvious: that I get impatient with my kids. The deeper confession of our real motivation requires a death to self. My projection of my desire to be seen as mature is crucified by the act of confessing that in reality I am a religious hypocrite who is often motivated by a desire to appear mature and in order to keep up this act I shame my kids. The very act of confessing this motivation reveals my spiritual poverty which is the very thing my ego is trying to hide. Rigorous honesty is the taking up of the cross and crucifying my ego and how I want to use religion to appear to have dignity and spiritual health. The fact of the matter is none of us have any spiritual dignity or health apart from abiding in grace and an awareness of our own spiritual poverty. Herein lies the cross and the self-denial that is required for Jesus to rule over our hearts. Rigorous honesty is the cross of discipleship. It is this process of rigorous honesty that our ego resists, but it is precisely this rigorous honesty that enables the process of discipleship.
I use this example as one of many that I could use. We all have sexual problems and the root motivations of these problems is all tied up in a sordid lot of motivations that are quite alarming to us when we allow our motivations to come into our awareness. We all get angry and resentful for all sorts of reasons. We are motivated by a million forms of self-centered fear.
So how are we to lead?
Here is the great lesson. First, this process of discerning our real motives and exposing them to the light of our own awareness and the rule and reign of Jesus is a process that the disciple needs to maintain throughout his or her life. Life is filled with trials and these trials lead us into anger and self-pity and a myriad of other sinful attitudes. Because this process is on-going Christians need these discipleship relationships in their life throughout their life. I personally call and meet with my ministry partners multiple times a week for honest discussion about my spiritual condition. Because of this on-going need and because this process is to be the life of the church, any effective leadership team needs to maintain relationships immersed in this level of rigorous honesty. For, if the discipleship method of the church is one of rigorous honesty with respect to our hidden motivations, those calling others into discipleship must be thoroughly acquainted with this process. How often the church’s leaders who design the discipleship process of the church are themselves unaware of their own spiritual condition and unable to discern the motives that drive their behaviors. We do not live in such a level of honesty pursuit of God to model this process to others but to understand discipleship and know the process intimately. With such a thorough commitment and understanding of what it means to have one’s spirit under the dominion of Jesus Christ will greatly affect the tenor of all a leader teaches and preaches. Unless the ministry leaders of a congregation themselves are transparent and rigorously honesty, there is no way to build a disciple-making community.